Definitions of Role-Playing

Here are some snippets of how published Role-Playing Games define themselves.

from Shadowrun (2nd Edition), by FASA

``Everyone has read a book or seen a movie where the lead character does something that the reader or viewer finds so utterly wrong that he or she wants to yell out and warn them. But whether the reader calls out or not, it makes no difference. No matter what we say, the character will do what the plot demands; we're just along for the ride.''

``The situation in a roleplaying game is very different. When roleplaying, the players control their characters' actions and respond to the events of the plot. If the player does not want the character to go through the door, the character will not. If the player thinks the character can talk him or herself out of a tight situation rather than resorting to that trusty pistol, he can talk away. The script, or plot, of a roleplaying game is flexible, always changing based on the decisions the players make as characters.''

``The person controlling the story is called the gamemaster. His or her job is to keep track of what is supposed to happen when, describe events as they occur so that the players (as characters) can react to them, keep track of other characters in the game (referred to as non-player characters), and resolve attempts to take action using the game system. The gamemaster describes the world as the characters see it, functioning as their eyes, ears, and other senses.''

from Nexus: The Infinite City

``A roleplaying system (also known as a roleplaying game) is a more sophisticated version of the Let's Pretend games we all played as children. Roleplaying games are governed by rules and guidelines that help provide context and consistency. The rules and guidelines are used to avoid the types of dilemmas that arose in those childhood Let's Pretend games - 'I shot you first!' 'No, I shot you first!' Roleplaying games also involve a referee known as the Game Moderator or Game Master (usually abbreviated 'GM'). GMs don't just interpret the rules and make on-the-spot judgements, they also describe the setting to the players and play the role of other characters the players meet.''

from Vampire: The Masquerade, by White Wolf Games

``This is a game of make-believe, of pretend, of storytelling. Though a game, it's more about storytelling than it is about winning... These stories are of a more grim and dark nature than the fairy tales that you might remember (though those too were rather grim if you think back), and they will capture your imagination and involve you far more deeply than any play or movie. This is because you're inside the story and not just watching it.''

from Underground

``Like all role-playing games, Underground is totally unlike poker, chess, checkers, or Monopoly: there are no winners or losers, there are no playing pieces, and a single game can last anywhere from one hour to several years. Instead, Underground is similar to the games you played as a child - games like 'cops and robbers' and 'cowboys and indians' - only much more sophisticated.

``Basically, Underground calls upon you and your friends to cooperate and create stories set in the world described in the previous chapter... Your goal is to create interesting stories that keep you entertained. Think of playing the game as watching a special movie that allows you to occasionally stop the action and tell the characters what to do next. "The player who did not create a character becomes the Gamemaster, or referee. This player has a number of special responsibilities that are not shared by the other players. He or she: creates the basic framework of the story, begins the story, resolves any actions performed by the characters created by the other players, makes decisions for characters not created by the players, and interprets the rules.''

from Dream Park, by R Talsorian Games

``Perhaps you're familiar with the idea of a traditional roleplaying game already. In a traditional, old-form game, players used paper, pencils and dice to act out parts in an imaginary adventure, which was moderated by a game Referee or Gamemaster. As Dr. Mike Pondsmith over in Systems Design likes to say, 'It's Let's Pretend with rules'...''

John H. Kim <jhkim-at-darkshire-dot-net>
Last modified: Wed Oct 15 11:00:11 2003